Don't call me stepmum

by - May 03, 2017

Recently my partner and I made things official and were married in Fiji. It was a beautiful day shared with 40 of our closest family and friends. His two children were front row as I formally became a part of their lives.

Almost two and a half years after meeting them, my relationship with the kids is still developing. I've read countless research studies indicating it can take up to seven years for a real bond to evolve in blended families and while I have no measuring stick for it, I think we're chugging along OK.

Our wedding day
One thing that has come up repeatedly though is the complexity of the role I actually play in the lives of the children - who live with us 50 per cent of the time. The difficult thing about coming into a family dynamic that already exists is that there are no parameters. My partner and his kids were doing fine before I came along so it's not as though there was a gap for me to fill as such.

So where do I fit? I am not the mother, they are not my children -  they have two active, loving parents involved in their upbringing, whether I agree with their decisions or not. Am I their friend? Their ally? An aunt-type figure? To tell you the truth, I seem to be working it out as I go along and taking each situation as it comes. But one thing I have discovered through all of this is that I have a real problem with the term stepmum.

Apart from it's obvious 'wicked' connotations, it's a word that - in a society where more than a third of families are non-nuclear - is simply outdated. It doesn't accurately describe my role in the children's lives because it insinuates that I am not living up to my job description if I'm not 'mothering' them.

Sure I help with homework, dole out advice when asked and play taxi driver here and there but when it comes to the parenting side of things, it's not something I feel is in my remit. That's what their parents are for.

If I ever have a child of my own I know I would have a huge problem with another woman putting her mother stamp on their lives while I was an active parent. So while I sometimes don't agree with how the children's biological mum does things, I feel I need to fully respect her role as their mother and the rightfully powerful bond she has with them. I would expect the same.

I also have a great respect for the word 'mum'. It's a word that has such strong meaning and associations and, without being their biological mum, how can I call myself something even akin to that. The truth is I will never share that bond with the kids - no matter how hard we all try. It's something that can't be replicated.

As reported by Mary Kelly-Williams on Psychology Today, studies show that children resent parenting attempts by their parent's new spouse, even when one of their parents is deceased. It's not a position I want to put the children or my partnership in. I don't want the kids to feel as though I'm stepping on toes, simply that I am there to offer support in any part of their lives if they need it.

I don't want them to resent me because not only would that put a strain on my relationship with the kids but it would spell disaster for my marriage.

My partner finds this very hard to understand and I'm finding it increasingly difficult to explain how hurtful it is that he thinks me not identifying with the stepmum moniker means I am not wholeheartedly committed to my role in the lives of his children.

Wednesday Martin writes "stepmothering is an undertaking steeped in cultural bias, ignorance, and misconceptions" and I couldn't agree more. Until I was in this situation myself I had no idea what it actually meant to come into a family as the "extra parent". I am constantly second-guessing how I relate to the kids, always worried that I am going to upset the applecart and concerned how my actions will be interpreted both by the kids and my husband.

It's a tough gig and my kudos to any woman who is experiencing finding her place in an existing family dynamic - I know how hard it is. Just know you are doing your best and, like all the research says, it's a long process. The end result is up to you. Don't judge yourself by the experiences of others and, most importantly, look after your marriage first and foremost.

I really identified with this interview with Chloe Shorten who has a new book called Take Heart about creating a stepfamily. I hope you find it as helpful and reassuring as I did.

You May Also Like